Whenever I hold my 5-year-old son Rigden in my arms, the image of my late younger brother often flashes through my mind. I think he was about the same age as my son when he died. He was about four years younger to me. Like my son Rigden, he was active, jolly and of course, I should say he was intelligent. I still have vivid memories of those days when he used to help me when I became blind. Even when he was busy taking meals, he would stop eating and help me to go to toilet whenever requested. That way, he was very helpful and supportive even at such a tender age. I always wish if he were still alive.
Although we came from different mothers, we grew up together without even the slightest sense of difference. After my mother died when I was about 4, my father married his mother, who was my mother’s distant cousin sister. So, we lived a very happy and harmonious life sharing happiness and sadness equally together. My step-mother also treated me just like her own child and I have no doubt that she loved me so much. Although life in Chengmari during those days was never easy for a landless family like us, our parents worked hard all day to keep us happy and content. As early as I can remember, we were cultivating other’s lands on crop-sharing basis but I guess that used to be enough to save us from starvation. As kids, we did whatever we could to support our parents, from herding cattle to fetching water. My brother was too young but he used to be my good companion especially while playing. I still remember him wearing a colorful cap woven by Mom which had a flower-like knot in the middle, and whenever he wore it, we had to be watchful because one of our roosters used to always attack him on the head. These are some of the earliest memories I have of him.
After our parents left Chengmari in search of better livelihood, our father took us to different places within Western Bhutan where he worked in the production of charcoal. We stayed in Bunagu under Chukha Dzongkhag for a few months and after my step-mother died there, we moved to Gai Khure, above Rinchending where we stayed for a while. Then finally we moved to Trashila in Wangdue Phodrang where the greatest tragedies befell us. First, I lost my sight and then my elder half-sister, who was the daughter of my step-mother from her ex-husband, died at the age of 13. She was the only one to take care of us at home when our father was away but with her death, we all felt empty. My father used to be an alcoholic during those days and would often stay outdoors, not even returning home at nights. Life at that time was really pathetic. When my elder sister was sick for weeks and perhaps months, no medication was sought apart from performing some rituals. She died an agonizing death at home which, I am sure, could have been treated if she was taken to hospital on time. After her death, we shifted our house a few kilometers away where we moved with our belongings in a tractor which my father had arranged. While travelling in the tractor, my brother appeared unwell and began to scream as we moved through the jungle. He cried consistently as though something scary haunted him. That was the initial symptom of his sickness. Not understanding his pain, my father kept scolding him for crying without any reason.
We soon reached our new home and settled down but my brother would never get better. Soon I heard he was suffering from dysentery as there was mucus in his stool but he was also never taken to hospital. A few rituals by local Shamans were performed but no improvements could be made. It still aches my heart when I think of those days and nights when my brother used to moan and cry with pain.
I still clearly remember that final night we lived with him in the same house. I think he did not sleep the whole night. He was crying until morning. I was helpless because I couldn’t share his pain and I don’t know what was going on in my father’s mind. In the morning, my father woke up and asked my brother if he wanted anything. He whispered that he wanted water. Since he had not taken any food for days, my father suggested that he would instead bring him rice-soup and went off to the kitchen to prepare the soup. But when he came back with a mug of soup after a while, my brother was no more with us. He tried to wake him up thinking he might have fallen asleep but he was gone forever. It was another sad moment for our family. It was one of the greatest regrets for my father not being able to offer my brother water when he asked for it. If he had brought water instead of preparing soup, my brother would have got the chance to have at least a few sips before he breathed last. My father immediately informed our neighbors and they all came to help us. With my brother gone, now it was just me and my father in the name of our family. An astrologer was consulted to determine the auspicious day for his cremation and he was buried in the jungle accordingly. The astrologer had told us that he would be reborn as a tiger. I wish if I could really know where he is now. I still miss him. I feel if my father had not been an alcoholic, he could have saved all of us from such tragedies. But as we all believe in our Karma, I think we were born to undergo those circumstances. After my father also died in 2005, now I am all alone: no parents and no siblings on my side. Sometimes, this is very painful to reflect on.